confidence : the not so secret sauce for networking like a pro
Written by Helené van Tonder
Written by Helené van Tonder
This week I spoke to Swati Shah Gupta about superconnecting. She has more than 15 years of experience in the impact sector, covering aspects like policy, fundraising, impact investment, and strategy. Her most recent stint was at Aavishkaar, and now she’s switched to entrepreneurial gear.
Swati is a long-time networker who has mastered the art. She told me that she found her last 2 jobs and last 10 clients simply by sending a LinkedIn message. “Over time, I’ve learned how to identify the right people. And now the boldness and confidence to reach out is just part of who I am. I’ve done this many times before,” she said. 🦸♀️
Swati believes that leap.club is a unique space for networking with a lot of potential for people looking to build and leverage a strong professional network. “The caliber of women you find inside leap is amazing. The combination of credibility, competence, and level of intent makes this group of women relatively superior to the average professional group out there. It means that I have an amazing set of resources — possible friends even — in one common place,” Swati said. (Go leap ladies! 👏 😁) “I also think that coaching is a very undervalued and under-utilised resource for professionals at large. So the fact that leap is making coaching more accessible to this group of women is very powerful.”
During our conversation, I asked Swati about two things in particular: her superconnect experience with fellow leap-member Alam Bains, and her advice for me (and whoever else wants it!) about networking.
Over to some transcribed snippets from our conversation.
You mentioned that you had a great superconnect experience with Alam Bains. Tell me more :)
Yes, I’m going to remember that conversation with Alam for a long time. 😊 She is quite a bit younger to me. Younger professionals often reach out to me, and I always accept and I offer time — that’s just a given for me. Usually, the other person has questions about the way I’ve built my career, and what’s happening in the space of impact investing, and so on. I happily engage in conversations like that.
So when my chat with Alam came up, I expected to have a conversation like that with her. I went in thinking she’d have some questions and that I might be able to help her. But although it started like that, it turned out to be exactly the opposite!
I just moved out of Aavishkaar, so I mentioned to Alam what I was up to. And then she just started engaging me in an incredible way: “Oh, then you should speak to this person and that person, and how about this, and I don’t think that will work.” I thought to myself, “Wow, this is amazing!”
It was not like she was name-dropping. I mean, I’ve been in this industry for a long time; I had my own list of leads. She is incredibly well informed, and she happened to be at exactly the right organisation (ILSS) — I’ve tracked them for years.
I loved her energy. She was so forthcoming, very honest, very opinionated. She had sharp opinions, and a lot of insights around things she thinks would work or things she didn’t think would take off. I felt she was a younger version of me, just much better! It was wonderful. I was so grateful.
We had a hyper-productive 30 or 45 minutes together — which is pretty wonderful. I’m surely going to remember the conversation for some time. There was so much for me to learn.
What tips do you have for someone like me who is not that good at networking?
Well, first, you just have to believe that you are good at it! You can’t network with confidence if you keep on thinking you’re bad at it.
But that being said, there are deeper aspects to it. You have to be in a good place yourself. You can’t be going to people if you’re just looking for affirmation of yourself or your ideas. You can’t go into a conversation believing that you already know everything that there is to know. That’s just no way to have a conversation — not when you’re networking, and also not in life in general.
Now, on a more practical level, you shouldn’t be carpet bombing people with requests. You yourself will lose track, and you will start believing that you’re inefficient. It’s better to do your homework to find the 3 most relevant people to speak with than to reach out to 10 or 15 people who might be relevant. Start with 10 yes, but filter it down until you have the top 3. Once you’ve identified them, be intentional with how you reach out to them, and wait for them to respond meaningfully. There’s a good chance your hit rate will be 100%, and that feels good. It’s really like B2B sales — it’s all about reaching out to the right people.
You also need to be super sharp about your ask. “This is what I’m doing, this is what I want to know. This is what I’m good at. I would like to learn more about this.” You also can’t expect people to just sit there and think on your behalf. You have to do your homework and then go into a conversation well-prepared with your resources and questions in place. You want to engage them about the things that a book will not reveal to you.
This advice applies to the scenarios where you’re networking to find a potential business partner or a potential job — you have to be extremely well-prepared.
Then, about the mindset. Don’t be bitter about people who don’t respond. Everyone has their reasons. I think if you feel bitter it creates a vibe that just goes out into the world, in a weird way. Whoever responds — that’s amazing. Whoever doesn’t — you’re not entitled to it. You need to genuinely believe that. You should definitely follow up if someone doesn’t respond the first time, but not like a crazy person. No, do it with respect and patience.
And then my last tip: Always send a closing note within 24–48 hours of a conversation, to whoever you speak with. It’s a very small world. You don’t want your networking efforts to go against you.
Anything else you’d want to say?
Just one thing, yes. I’ve had many beautiful and helpful conversations with other women as well, through superconnects. So I want to mention their names to thank them, if you’d allow: Nikita Almeida, Saloni Agarwal, Namrata Hazarika, Ragini Das, and Surbhi Aroraa.